Youth Culture Window

I Heard a Justin Bieber Song in Church

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How Should We Handle Today’s Secular Music?
David R Smith

On Monday morning, I was working at my office. (Some people call it Chick-Fil-A. Whatever.) A friend of mine who happens to be the manager walked up with a question. “We were at church this weekend and they played a Justin Bieber song. Is it OK to play secular music in church?”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked that question; it won’t be the last. Instead of answering his question, I replied with one of my own. “Well, what song was it?” After all, I could think of several secular songs that might fit within a church setting…but I could also think of a lot of secular songs that shouldn’t ever be played in church! My friend told me he thought the name of the song was “Yummy” based on the lyrics.

“I’m not familiar with it,” I confessed as I stood up. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll check it out and get back with you later today.” That afternoon, I took a moment to go through my super simple, two-step process I always employ when encountering new music for the first time:

  1. I did a Google search for the song’s lyrics.
  2. I did a YouTube search for the song’s music video.

In less than four minutes, I was confident I had the answer to my friend’s question. Reading through the song’s lyrics gave me all the information I needed. It started off simple enough:

Yeah, you got that yummy, yum
That yummy, yum
That yummy, yummy
Yeah, you got that yummy, yum
That yummy, yum
That yummy, yummy

Yep, the song definitely has the right title…. But what are we talking about, exactly? What’s so yummy? Reading just a few more lines, I quickly began to see that Justin was saying his wife, Hailey, has a yummy body. This song was his way of describing their sex life.

Rollin’ eyes back in my head
Make my toes curl
Yeah, Yeah

I’m not the only one who thinks that’s a clear reference to sex. You can read the rest of the song’s lyrics for yourself, but you’ll likely come to the same conclusion. (The song’s official music video, while very popular with more than 100 million views so far, is too quirky to shed any more light on the overall meaning.)

I finally had enough data to send my friend an answer: it’s probably best to not play this Justin Bieber song in church. But does that mean we shouldn’t play any Justin Bieber song (in church or anywhere else)? Can we listen to any secular music for that matter…or should all secular music be condemned just because it’s secular?

That’s a big question and the debate has been raging for quite some time. There are voices on both sides of the argument, but this thoughtful and entertaining YouTube video does a great job helping Christians navigate secular music. In fact, we liked that video so much we actually used it as a jump starter for two great Bible studies (one you can use with your youth ministry and one you can use with your family).

Essentially, we turn to the godly counsel found in Philippians 4:8. In that verse, the Apostle Paul is wrapping up his letter to a strong church and he gives them this encouragement:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

So, how do today’s top secular songs stack up against this standard? I’ll walk you through the first three tunes on this week’s Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart in case you want to dissect the whole list with your kids.

  • This week’s #1 song, The Box by Roddy Ricch, drops two F bombs within the first two lines of the lyrics. If you have the courage to keep reading, you won’t find anything “honorable” or “pure” or “lovely” or “commendable.” In fact, it probably doesn’t have any of the qualities Paul outlines in Philippians 4:8.
  • Life Is Good, this week’s #2 song by Future featuring Drake, is only slightly better. However, the number of racially insensitive terms and the derogatory mention of female genitalia easily keeps this one off the “worthy of praise” list.
  • And then in the #3 spot is Circles by Post Malone. We recently discussed this song in our annual review of the year’s #1 songs. The song is about a break up – something that is certainly a “true” reality for lots of people – but in the song, Malone admits that even though she thought the relationship was special, he was just in it for the sex. While this might be the least inappropriate song among the top three, we still find a message that is beneath the standards Paul outlines in Philippians 4:8.

I encourage you to take half an hour to work through the remainder of the Top 10 songs with your kids under the guidance of Philippians 4:8. Analyze the song’s lyrics, images, messages, and meaning in light of the biblical standard. Afterward, you may want to pick some of your family’s favorite secular songs to study. As you do so, remember these two important tips:

  1. Use the tools at your disposal. Google and YouTube will almost always give you enough information to help you make a solid decision about a song. If there’s any ambiguity after these first two steps, you can always reach a conclusion by searching for the song’s meaning. Beyond that, your church’s youth pastor is usually a good resource for breaking down the meaning and influence of today’s music. Bottom line: do whatever you need to do to understand the music your kids want to download.
  2. Keep your emotions in check. If you’ve never studied the lyrics and messages in today’s popular music, you may be tempted to scream, pull out your hair, and throw away every mobile device in your home when you realize what’s out there. Don’t. Not only is it possible to have rational, even-tempered discussions with your kids, they’re preferred! One of the best ways to make sure you’re having a “discussion” instead of giving a “lecture” is to ask questions. Get them thinking and make them defend their thoughts.

Justin Bieber’s song is currently sitting in the #10 position on Billboard’s Chart. When it inevitably drops, another song will take its place. That one might be better, but it might also be much, much worse. If you take the time to study the secular songs of our culture, you’ll know how to guide your kids in their musical choices.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Tracy Sims
    January 28, 2020 at 4:46 am

    I hear you! I took it on with another angle. The teens in my youth group were always bringing up secular songs they liked – especially the “shocking” ones. I asked about a particular song they were discussing, went home, did what you said you did and saw that God was in it too. He is everywhere…..even in a Justin Bieber song. I then got them to take turns each week bringing in a song (I had to know what it was before hand to prepare) and telling us all why they liked it and if they saw Jesus in it. Over SEVERAL months, there was not one that Jesus wasn’t in. I can’t remember which one didn’t quite fit, but my point is…..He is everywhere…..and on every station on he dial. I dare them to keep him out. Scary? Oh yes. But it did make them think outside the box.

  2. Avatar
    Alisa Laska
    January 28, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    This was a very helpful article. FYI that the video you link is not longer available due to copyright concerns.

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